After the National Basketball Player’s Association decided to grant players who had been claimed off of waivers with their “Bird” and “Early Bird” rights, Knicks fans were ecstatic. This ruling meant that teams would be able to re-sign players they had picked up off of waivers without their salaries affecting the team’s salary cap. This decision was especially huge for the New York Knicks because it would allow them to re-sign two key players that had breakout seasons last year, Jeremy Lin and Steve Novak. After quickly resigning Novak, the team moved their focus to Lin. However, teams like the Houston Rockets and Toronto Raptors were attempting to steal the young point guard. As we all know, Lin agreed to a contract with the Rockets of three-years, $25.1 million and the Knicks, being the Knicks, stunned everyone when they decided to not match the offer and send the savior of MSG to Houston.
As a die-hard Knicks fan, I was just as shocked as everyone else was when the Knicks decided to pass up on matching Houston’s offer. With the Bird rights ruling, Linsanity returning to the Big Apple was supposed to be a guarantee. Analysts were advocating that Lin returning to the Knicks was a no-brainer. Knicks Head Coach Mike Woodson even said the Knicks would “absolutely” match the Houston Rockets offer (but previously the offer was a four-year, $28.8 million offer). When the Rockets changed the offer to a three-year, $25.1 million offer, the Knicks were not willing to match it. A source said that what caused the Knicks to move on and look elsewhere was the fact that Lin would be getting paid $14.8 million in the final year of the contract, compared to around $5 million in years one and two. The Knicks would have been forced to pay a luxury tax in that final year of over $40 million, and even though that seems like quite a bit of money for just one player, Knicks owner James Dolan practically bathes in money thanks to Cablevision.
So let’s get down to brass text, did the Knicks make the right decision? No they did not. With an owner as rich as Dolan, money shouldn’t be an issue. When the Knicks decided to sign free agent Jason Kidd, it seemed like the mentor-mentee relationship was set. Kidd’s main job would be to polish up Lin’s game and prove that Linsanity was no fluke. But when Lin decided to agree to Houston’s contract offer, the Knicks suddenly went in a complete U-turn and traded for former Knick point guard Raymond Felton, signaling the end of Linsanity in the Big Apple.
Not only is Lin valuable on the court, but you obviously have to think about the marketing value of a talented Asian-American in the NBA. Despite not playing in the first half of the season, Lin was the second highest-selling jersey in the country behind Derrick Rose. He single-handedly caused the stock-price of Madison Square Garden to surge because of his immense popularity, and caused the cost of regular season tickets to skyrocket as well. He was all over ESPN during the Linsanity days, and completely took over the sports world with his “Cinderella” story and cult following. He is clearly a huge asset to any team in more ways than one.
Despite my frustrations, I’m not heart-broken over the Knicks’ decision. The only real frustrating part to me is that the Knicks basically got nothing in the long run for discovering a “needle in a haystack”. However, I can understand to some degree why they made the decision even though I don’t agree with it. Ideally, Lin should have pulled a Lebron James here and decided to take less money in order to give himself and his former team a better chance to make a run at the championship. Instead, Lin decided to take the big paycheck and join a team that might not have any of the same faces before next season. Maybe Dolan felt betrayed by Lin because as the saying goes, “actions speak louder than words.” Even though Lin stated he wanted to rejoin the Knicks, his actions indicated that he was more interested in getting the big bucks, regardless of where that would take him.
In the end, the Rockets liked what they saw in Lin, both as a player and as a marketing opportunity for their large Asian fan base thanks to the Yao Ming days. They gave Lin quite the contract in an attempt to steer the Knicks off of the road to resigning him, and they were successful. Now, the Knicks will hand point guard responsibilities over to Jason Kidd, a 39 year old approaching the end of his career, and Raymond Felton, a younger point guard who is coming off the worst year of his career (Note: he did have the best year of his career with the Knicks). With a lot of Knicks fans angry with Dolan for letting Lin leave, the pressure will be on Felton, as well as the team as a whole to have a strong season. But if the team struggles and Lin puts up solid numbers in Houston, another huge blemish will be added to the already tarnished reputation of Knicks owner James Dolan.